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February 10th, 2012

So, You Want to Be RPI Chair…

When the Republican State Central Committee meets in Des Moines on Saturday, Matt Strawn’s three years at the helm of the Republican Party of Iowa will officially end. Strawn resigned his chairmanship of the party after badly botching the announcement of the certified caucus results, which gave the caucus institution a lot of negative press. It’s also possible that at the same meeting, the committee will select Strawn’s replacement.

Three candidates are actively seeking to fill the remainder of Strawn’s term that will end in January. Bill Schickel, the current co-chairman of the Iowa GOP, State Central Committee member and Ames realtor A.J. Spiker, and Dave Funk, a former congressional candidate and current co-chairman Polk County Republican Party are all actively campaigning for the position.  Spiker was also a state director for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.

Running for any office is difficult, but securing the necessary nine votes that are required to become the head of the Republican Party of Iowa is especially difficult. While some candidates choose to campaign for the position by engaging activists like Funk is currently doing and like Strawn did before him, the electorate is made up entirely of the 15 congressional district representatives and the National Committeeman and Committeewoman.

Some SCC members hold their cards extremely close to their chest, while others try to work the committee for the candidate that they endorse. Voting is also done by secret ballot, which means there can also be surprises that nobody saw coming. That means each candidate must figure out who is with him or her, who’s not, and more importantly, who can be swayed.

With two members of the committee seeking the chairmanship, Funk’s chances at winning are slim. Both Schickel and Spiker have earned respect with the committee and thus have solid votes lined up. What is unknown about is whether or not Schickel and Spiker can secure the necessary nine votes.

Funk on the other hand is a wildcard. For him to get to the nine votes he needs, the SCC members will have to be willing vote against two of their colleagues. With the board being comprised of five Ron Paul organizers it’s probably safe to assume they will back Spiker. That means Funk would have to win nine votes out of the remaining 12 members, which would be difficult to accomplish.

If Funk was running for a full term instead of seeking to fill the remaining ten months left of Strawn’s second term, the committee might have given him a longer look. Changing chairmen in the middle of a term is always difficult, and the committee likely wants to avoid making wholesale changes since many seem satisfied with the current staff.

It’s impossible to know what the SCC will do on Saturday. In fact, we don’t know for sure that they will even hold a chair election. However, numerous members have told that they would prefer to hold the election sooner rather that later. And while the process has been less formal than in previous elections, they remind people that Strawn’s resignation was national news, so it’s not like people are unaware of the opening.

Since SCC members maybe electing a new chair this weekend, I thought it might be good to list some of the traits that a good chair brings to the table. Often times people are either confused about the responsibilities involved or don’t really understand that the Iowa GOP chair doesn’t have as much impact as one might think.

What should the SCC be looking for in a chair?

A Uniter, not a Divider

The role of the party chair is to bring all of the factions that exist within the Republican Party together and get them focused on one thing – electing Republicans. Now that the caucuses are over, the party must now look towards November. Keeping social conservatives, moderates, and libertarians marching in step with each other is never easy, but it will be necessary if Republicans are going to win this fall.

Party First

Putting a political party before your ideology or a particular candidate is not in vogue or easy to do. However, when you are the figurehead of the Republican Party of Iowa, your duty is to party and nothing else. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and it usually means you anger people in the process.


The Republican Party of Iowa is an expensive bureaucracy that usually operates on about a $1 million dollars a year. That is a lot of money to raise, but it’s amazing how quickly it can be spent, and you really don’t have anything to show for it either.

Raising money for a political party is the most difficult type of fundraising that there is. People would rather donate to a candidate than give big bucks to build some sort of apparatus that most people will never see, and even fewer people appreciate.

Having pre-existing fundraising connections is a benefit. However, to fully fund the party, you have to over see direct mail and tele-marketing fundraising. You also have to pull off major fundraising events. That can be fun, but now that the caucuses are done, getting a top-notch speaker that people are interested enough in to shell out money to see is difficult.


With the caucuses over, the face time that the Iowa GOP chair has on national television is going to be dramatically reduced. However it’s still important to have a leader who can be an effective messenger for the party. It’s also good for that person not to make life more difficult for our Republican candidates by saying something stupid.


The Iowa GOP chair must be able to motivate activists for all Republican candidates even if they don’t necessarily like who is at the top of the ticket. Keeping people positive and involved is extremely important.


“Chairman” is a pretty cool title, but it really means you are going to be everybody’s punching bag at worst or everyone’s babysitter at best. When things go bad for Republicans, you are going to get most of the blame. When things go great, people are going to line up around the block to take credit.

Know your role

Some people think that being the Republican Party of Iowa chair means that you oversee all Republican efforts in the state. Wrong. The general rule in life also applies to the party politics. The Iowa GOP Chair really only controls the things that the party actually pays for, which isn’t much.

The Iowa GOP will oversee the District and State Conventions. The Chair will also lead the Iowa delegation to the national convention in Tampa. That’s a nice perk, and whoever wins should enjoy it. Other than that, the chair is really going to oversee the Republican get-out-the-vote effort for the state.

When it comes to legislative candidates, leaders in the State House and Senate recruit and help fund these candidates. The same is true for our congressional candidates. The only thing the GOP Chair can really do is helping make sure that everybody is participating in the Victory program.


The fun time to be Iowa GOP chair is during the caucuses. You get to organize the Straw Poll and Caucus, but you also get to do a lot of interviews. Those days are now over. Now it’s time to implement the turnout operation. It might not be glitzy work, but it is what helps Republican candidates win.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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